By Jasmine Kozak Gilroy
The Evergreen State College is currently hiring eight regular faculty members to teach undergraduate programs. Parallel to the hiring process, the new Diversity and Equity council has released their Strategic Equity Plan, which has ignited underlying tensions among staff, culminating in an ongoing stream of passionate complaints and defenses over faculty and staff email chains.
The new faculty positions are to focus on U.S. history, writing and literature, physics, mathematics, Latinx studies, fine metals, developmental psychology, and business management. There is also a visiting professor of documentary and community media. New faculty positions are created according to current faculty’s perception of the needs of the college, whereas adjunct faculty positions are made available according to the Academic Deans perception of the needs of the college. Hiring involves a search committee of current faculty, staff, and students, who evaluate the candidates and choose up to three finalists. Finalists then visit the school to be interviewed by the committee, attend classes relevant to their disciplines, give presentations, and are evaluated on their live teaching capabilities. This final stage of the process takes place between January and March and is now coming to a close, except for the visiting faculty position, which will not come to a close until April. After this stage, the search committees make their final recommendations and submit them to the deans and Provost for official approval. The Provost will then make an offer of employment to the candidate.
Regular faculty members are hired first for a three year probationary period, after which they will be reviewed by the academic deans and the Provost and may be offered a second three year contract. After six years of employment, the faculty member may be offered a continuing contract, which gives them continuous employment until their resignation, retirement, or until they are “terminated”. During their probationary period, faculty members undergo an annual review during which they present their own portfolio, including their curriculum vitae, self evaluations, and evaluations written about them by students. Once they are offered continuous employment, faculty are only required to go under review every five years.
Hiring at Evergreen has recently aroused drama among faculty and staff, as the Diversity and Equity council released their 2016– 2017 Strategic Equity plan, which included a section dedicated to hiring. In the plan, the council says of the 2012 Evergreen Hiring Priorities Disappearing Task Force Report that, “There is no specific reference to diversity and equity in the criteria for prioritizing faculty hires –an issue which needs to be central to equity minded practices”. In response, the Strategic Equity plan asks many large questions about hiring including, “How can we work to shift the process for determining temporary/visiting faculty hires to an explicit equity framework?” and, “What would it look like to move the entire hiring process, from setting hiring priorities to the recruitment, interviewing, and selection of faculty, to a more explicit equity framework?”, addressing those questions with a series of specific “action steps” towards equity in hiring.
Faculty and staff were introduced to the Strategic Equity plan in fall quarter, at a meeting that involved metaphorical canoe, and the introduction was followed by an enormous string of emails attacking and defending the plan. Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen, wrote a particularly critical email regarding the plan and the way it was introduced, taking issue with it being advertised as a forum and describing the meeting and an exercise in which staff and faculty participant were invited to enter a metaphorical canoe saying, “… the canoe was introduced. But I couldn’t sign onto a policy based on its goals– I was troubled by subtle aspect of the proposal that will have large consequences. This did not seem at all like an elegant canoe which can, by its nature, choose the best route, pick the best routes, and navigate based on wisdom.” Moving out of the realm of the metaphorical, he went on to state, “From what I have read, I do not believe this proposal will function to the net benefit of Evergreen’s student of color, in the present, or in the future.” In a more recent email chain regarding student participation in Evergreen’s ongoing rebranding efforts, Weinstein alludes to his complaints about the Diversity and Equity council’s plan, declaring that “Evergreen is engaged in what appears to be a reckless, top-down reorganization around new structures and principles. Much of what has been proposed amounts to a repudiation of the college’s most closely held values– among other things, at least one of the 5 Foci, and three of the six Expectations are incompatible with the plans that have been advanced as well as the manner in which they have been presented.”
The Strategic Equity Plan, which is available of the Evergreen State College website, provides 19 specific action steps towards developing hiring practices that promote equity, most of which are focused around broadening the pool of applicants for positions, requiring the involvement of anti–bias training in multiple levels of the hiring process, general organizational tactics that would allow hiring to take place more consciously, and redirecting the official stated mission of hiring at Evergreen towards equity. Some of the recommended steps include, “Explore more transparent models of temporary/adjunct faculty hires”, “Develop practices for anticipating retirements and other faculty hiring emergencies, so that we can recruit from broader applicant pools”, “Poll current faculty and staff about their professional, academic and social networks that could potentially be used for recruitment outreach for faculty positions”, and “change the Multicultural Statement to an Equity Statement”, the last of which has already been implemented by the current dean of Hiring, Therese Saliba. The “commitment to equity” in hiring statement, featured on the Faculty Hiring website page, now reads, “Recognizing cultural diversity as a defining characteristic of the 21st century, the college has intensified its efforts to become a multicultural institution. Substantive experience in working across cultural differences is therefore highly desirable for all positions. Committed to equal opportunity and affirmative action, Evergreen is working to build a diverse, broadly trained faculty. We particularly encourage applications from candidates whose race, national origin, sex, age, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status or disability will contribute to our diversity.”